HC Deb 03 November 1988 vol 139 cc1167-9
4. Mr. Burns

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a further statement on action taken by the Government to curb rural violence.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

I have reminded the police and courts of their powers—both the original ones and now the increased ones—for dealing with outbreaks of disorder and infringements of the licensing laws, and have asked them to arrange for swift prosecutions and court hearings after outbreaks of hooliganism and disorder. I have also approved pilot projects in seven areas, Coventry being the first, to test the effectiveness of byelaws making it an offence to drink alcohol in designated public places.

Mr. Burns

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his answer. Will he confirm that the Licensing Act 1988 has given magistrates new powers to punish irresponsible licence holders? Will he also comment on what progress may or may not have been made in considering income-related fines to bring home to young, affluent people who have too much money and too little sense that the Government really mean business in curbing rural violence and loutish behaviour brought about by drinking?

Mr. Hurd

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's second point. It is very important that in each case the courts should have the information that enables them to make the fine bite as they want it to bite. We are trying to arrange that that is increasingly so.

My hon. Friend's first point is entirely right. The Licensing Act 1988 gives magistrates new powers, for example to restrict the drinking hours in discos and to revoke a licence while it is current; in addition, of course, to strengthening the law against under-age illegal drinking.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I have received a number of letters from people in Cockermouth in my constituency who are angry about the police's failure to deal with rural drunkenness, irresponsibility and violence in that area. When I approached the police, they said that they needed more officers in the county. May I have an assurance that when more places are available the money will be spent in Cumbria and that such problems will be resolved? Or does the Home Secretary intend to do what he has done in the past—nothing—and allow these problems to persist?

Mr. Hurd

It is always difficult to know where to start with the hon. Gentleman. Even in the short time during which I have been Home Secretary, we have had a further record increase in the number of police in England and Wales. At a conference in Brighton not long ago I was able to announce a further increase of 1,100, which is a record on top of a record. I was also able to announce a further and substantial programme in the years to follow. We judge applications from police authorities as they come in, and when we receive the Cumbrian application I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Alexander

Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), is my right hon. Friend able to say that the Nottinghamshire police authority has all the police that it requires? Is he aware that, for example, at Southwell Minster, in my constituency, graves are regularly vandalised, and people in the area are desperate to have enough policemen to ensure that that does not happen?

Mr. Hurd

The police have received a bigger increase in resources in real terms than any other public service. It is important that that increase should continue and that a record should be piled on top of a record. It is for the chief constable in each police force area to decide how to allocate his men. I am sure that the chief constable in Nottinghamshire will note what my hon. Friend has said about the county. We shall continue to preside over and administer a programme of steady increases in the police forces of England and Wales.

Mr. Corbett

The right hon. Gentleman says that there is a record piled on a record, but is there not a further record—the record amount of violent crime on our streets in both rural and city areas, which increased by 12 per cent. last year alone? Does the Home Secretary not understand that it is not pious words but extra feet on the beat which are needed to combat the continuing and growing violence in rural and city areas? While he is at it, can the right hon. Gentleman explain why these loadsamoney lager louts behave in this way?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman will have noticed and, I am sure, given publicity to, the substantial achievements of the West Midlands police in reducing crime. He will have noticed that that force is among the pioneers who are finding the best ways to detect and deal with crime. The hon. Gentleman represents an area with an extremely good police force which is achieving substantial results in the reduction of crime. I am sure that he fully supports and encourages that.

The hon. Gentleman will provide his own answer to the second part of his question. I simply note that, whereas a couple of years ago the Opposition Front Bench said that all such crime was the result of poverty and unemployment, it now appears that the Marxist explanation has changed. I do not find either sociological reason particularly persuasive.